As a military professional, you’re used to moving, but relocating with a special needs child can be a complex process. It takes time to find the providers you need and can afford, then to get appointments with them, and finally making sure they’re the right fit. If you need to ensure continuity of treatment, the challenge can be daunting. Bottom line: Be proactive and support one another so that your child’s health doesn’t fall through the cracks.
“[There are] a ton of resources no one in the community really understands. In the end, we relied heavily on each other, family, and other military families who experienced similar situations. My kids are now 15 and 17 and absolutely thriving,” one military family member recently told us.
Here are some tips and advice to help families find the help they need more quickly.
Before You Move
Before a Permanent Change of Station (PCS), you or your spouse will get a sponsor on the new base, and it’s a good idea to ask that person for information about the healthcare resources you know you will need.
“See if there are resources through the clinic on base,” advised one military family we spoke with.
Additionally, ask your current providers for recommendations on what to look for or questions to ask; it is also possible if they are military-connected they could have recommendations for providers or clinics in your new location. Once you have some good information, set up appointments ahead of the move to avoid any disruption in services.
Also, make sure you have a printed copy of any of your child’s prescriptions so that when your family gets to your new post, there are no issues to get them filled.
When You’re in Your New Location
Note: If your child is in immediate crisis and at risk of harm to self and others, call 911.
If you already know your child’s diagnosis, go to your Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) on base or talk to the Military Family Resource Center for information about providers.
“Always start with your pediatric doctor and psychiatrist. Diagnosis is critical,” according to one military family.
And another military family member we spoke with gave us this helpful tip: “EFMP and MFRC have some support groups available. See their bimonthly pamphlet of classes or call to inquire.” Your first step may be a pediatrician on-base or off-base depending on availability. You can then get a referral for other services.
In many cases, child and adolescent therapy will have to be done by professionals who are not on-base and directly affiliated with a military organization. Make sure they have experience working with military families and a solid understanding of the military way of life. If not, don’t be afraid to educate them (here is a video by on this topic from Lori A. Phipps, a Military Dependent Education Specialist for Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas).
If you don’t have a diagnosis but you are concerned about your child, you can get support and information from several people: Military Family Readiness Council (MFRC) staff (including family counselors, EFMP, and/or the Family Advocacy Program), Vet Centers, school counselors (including Military Family Life Counselors that may be embedded in the school), a chaplain, or a pediatrician. While a diagnosis is not the most important, taking the signs of a mental health problem seriously is critical; your observations and your concerns matter. If you are not satisfied with a professional’s assessment of your child, do not hesitate to get a second opinion.
In Texas, the following organizations can provide you with lists of local resources and providers: TXServes (online and case management resources) and United Ways of Texas (dial 211 to speak to someone). Both organizations will give you an assigned navigator.
Another good source is Military One Source, both for an abundance of resources and information and providing you with non-medical counseling services referrals.
Finding the Right Provider
If you’re not sure, you can talk to other parents who may share your experience and know individual providers. In any case, it is recommended to:
- Check that the providers have experience treating the type of issue your child suffers from.
- Interview the provider before you retain them for service to make sure you’re comfortable with them and that they share some basic values.
- Check their credentials.
How to Pay for It
Tricare is usually the first place to go to check benefits and find providers. If your child has a serious mental health diagnosis, they may qualify for SSI, which will give them access to Medicaid. At that point, Medicaid becomes the primary insurance and Tricare the secondary one, which will give you more options to get help. Your child will also get an ID card that will give them access to military care anywhere. The ECHO program is another way to get help beyond the standard Tricare program. Your family must be enrolled in the EFMP program to be eligible for it.
Depending on your status, you may also qualify for financial coverage or free services as a veteran or family member. Check local veteran’s organizations for information of what is available.
Which Peer Support?
EFMP and MFRC offer support groups on base. Local hospitals with a pediatric department may also offer them. For instance, there are playgroups at Brooke Army Medical Center, and for families with at least one child under two years old, New Parent Support programs on military installations often provide weekly playgroups along with other supportive services. However, if you are looking for a more specialized support group focused on mental illness, check with your local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) chapter. Another source is your church or a chaplain on base, which may have a suggestion. Check for online parent support groups as well.
“Consider joining Facebook support groups and church groups,” suggested one military family.
Finally, starting your own group may be the only way you can bring together like-minded people who understand what you’re going through and offer a caring hand when you need it the most.
The reality is that while military communities often do have many programs available, they can be difficult to keep track of and understand. Bridging both professional and social support to help you navigate resources can help your family in the midst of moving, and as the following excerpt describes, continues to highlight how the military community takes care of each other in times of stress.